Age discrimination lawsuits filed against South Tama County Schools

Former STC administration Brent Bagnall (front) and Roy Frakes (right) walk off the stage at the 2019 graduation along with Superintendent Jared Smith.

Three separate age discrimination lawsuits have been filed against the South Tama County School District and Superintendent Jared Smith.

Former high school principal Roy Frakes, former high school Activities Director/Assistant Principal Brent Bagnall and former Food Service Director Sandy Jantzen filed lawsuits in Tama County district court last month against Smith and the district for denying promotions and/or terminating employment due to age discrimination, actions they are claiming have violated Iowa’s Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuits also allege that discriminatory treatment has been a pattern since the district hired Smith in 2018.

Prior to filing the lawsuits, Frakes, Bagnall and Jantzen submitted complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Roy Frakes

Frakes had been serving as the High School Principal since July 2010.

According to court filings, on April 12, 2019 the district administrator employment contracts were distributed but Frakes did not receive one. When Frakes called to inquire about it he was told he would get one later.

Frakes said he met with Smith later that afternoon and was told that the contract he would receive was a one-year non-renewable contract. According to court filings, all other administrators received continuing contracts for the same period.

According to documents during their conversation April 12, 2019 Smith added “but you’re going to retire anyway.” Frakes had allegedly on multiple occasions shared his plans to retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Frakes said he told Smith he had not made a decision about the next year but ended up signing the one-year non renewable contract as he felt that was his only option.

When Frakes questioned about the non-renewable contract, Smith allegedly said the high school needed a better instructional leader. Frakes stated the high school was performing better than the district’s other schools.

In May 2019 Frakes received an evaluation covering the 2018-19 school year that contained multiple “needs improvement” ratings.

Prior to this evaluation the only criticism Smith voiced to Frakes was a need to work on email skills. Smith and the district denied that it was only criticism however admitted Frakes did work with Beth Strike of Central Rivers AEA on the email issue.

Six months later Frakes informed the board he would retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Mark Groteluschen, who is younger than Frakes, was hired as the South Tama High School principal in late December of 2019 and began work during the summer of 2020.

Smith and Groteluschen had previously worked together at Muscatine HIgh School.

Brent Bagnall

Bagnall was hired by South Tama in 2010, the same year as Frakes, and served as the talented and gifted teacher. In 2016 then-superintendent Mary Jones named Bagnall Dean of Students.

The position was mostly administrative but Bagnall continued teaching two periods a day. Jones resigned from her position as Superintendent and the Dean of Students position was eliminated.

In Frakes’ lawsuit he claims Jones was forced to resign by the school board. The district denied this claim in its court filing.

Following the elimination of the dean of students position, Bagnall applied for the district’s High School Assistant Principal/Athletic Director position and was appointed to the role beginning at the start of the 2017 school year by then-interim superintendent Jeff Berger.

Berger served the district for one school year and according to Bagnall’s lawsuit, was interested in continuing on for another year. The district also denied this claim. Smith was hired to replace Berger the following year.

Bagnall said he met with Smith in 2019 to discuss the possibility of replacing Frakes after Frakes’s employment ended.

According to Bagnall, Smith said he would not be considered for the position because they were “looking for someone more seasoned” who had a better understanding of “systems management.”

Then in December of 2019 the South Tama school board voted to accept a recommendation by Smith that Bagnall’s contract not be renewed for the 2020-21 school year.

Bagnall and Frakes both worked their final day with South Tama schools on June 30, 2020.

Anthony Jahr was hired earlier this year to replace Bagnall as the high school Assistant Principal/Activities Director.

Sandy Jantzen

Jantzen began working as the district’s Food Service Director in June 2002. Jantzen oversaw all aspects of the district’s food service program and directly supervised three food service managers who supervised fourteen other employees.

According to court filings, Smith met with Jantzen to discuss her employment in October of 2019.

At the meeting Smith allegedly informed Jantzen that her contract was not being renewed because she was not meeting expectations and that he had considered firing her earlier in the year but wanted to allow an opportunity for improvement.

According to Jantzen, Smith told her she “was not a Five Star Food Service Director.”

Court filings also state prior to the Oct. meeting Smith met with Naomi Chyma, one of the district’s food service managers and asked if Chyma would consider the director position if Jantzen quit.

In April the district hired an outside applicant, Michelle Kalinay for the role of Food Service Director.

Through the different lawsuits, Frakes, Bagnall and Jantzen appear to suggest that Smith and the district have discriminated against them by pushing them out of their positions and reaching for younger candidates as replacements.

The News Chronicle contacted the attorney representing Smith and the district and were issued the following statement in response to the court complaint:

“The District denies the allegations in the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The District is committed to its obligations under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and all employment decisions were made in accordance with the law and in the best interest of the students, families, and community we serve. We are confident the Court will affirm our position in these matters.”

Frakes, Bagnall and Jantzen are each seeking that the employment conduct from Smith and the district be declared in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, provide appropriate lost earnings and benefits with interest, either reinstate each employee or award front pay in lieu of reinstatement, award damages to compensate for pain, humiliation and other emotional distress, reimbursement of attorney’s fees and award prejudgment interest and costs against the district and Smith as allowed by law.

Bagnall also seeks reinstatement, if appropriate, to require the district to give him the STC High School principalship or pay the salary and benefits of that position.

Representation for Frakes, Bagnall and Jantzen declined comment regarding the allegations.

The plaintiffs are being represented by RSH Legal of Cedar Rapids. Smith and the school district are being represented by Ahlers & Cooney P.C. of Des Moines.